Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Here we are at Pentecost! It’s good to see so many of you wearing red…and plaid! We wear red because of the symbolism of the Holy Spirit descending upon those early disciples in the form of a flame lighting aloe their heads.
Pentecost itself corresponds to the Jewish “Festival of the Weeks”. It’s a harvest festival that falls 50 days after the Jewish passover. Jesus was crucified during the passover celebration as we know. Fifty days later, the disciples are still living in fear, but are in Jerusalem now for another festival. Can you imagine what those disciples must have been going through in those 50 days? As we have been talking about these past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Jesus’ words in John chapters 14-17, the farewell discourse and events right after that discourse. Again, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come. Now, Jesus did not know all that was about to happen. He did not have any certainty. He didn’t know the outcome of the next day or the next season. Sound familiar?
We can identify with those disciples, living in seasons of our lives with uncertainty. Yet, something happened to them in those 50 days. As we read in the passage from Acts, the Spirit of God moved within them and they were empowered to move beyond their fear and to share their lives with those in a crowded Jerusalem.
That dynamic energy of three in one God, demonstrated by the outpouring of God’s energy, God’s Spirit on the disciples, gave them courage to face the unknown of going outside of their comfort and into a world that they literally did not understand. They walked into a Jerusalem filled with folks from all over that had different customs, different ethnicities, and different languages. This Spirit of God, this “Advocate” as we talked about recently is all around us and in us, the same Spirit that filled the disciples on that day. God’s Presence literally is advocating for us and is with us…and carried the disciples and carries us today!
The early disciples experienced being connected to God, one another, and wanted to share that connection with the world. And, in so doing, they gave birth to a new movement, a new understanding, a new realization if you will, that we are all one humanity, God’s children. That our diversity is beautiful, keeps us curious, AND, we can be united and connected in that diversity. Fire was used to describe the Holy Spirit…and that flame, once kindled, proliferated wildly.
The disciples needed the spirit…they needed courage…and they needed to know that they were not alone. If we have ever lost someone, we know that even after they are gone, that it often feels like they are still with us. Maybe even more so. Same, but even more with Jesus. We’ve never met Jesus, yet it seems that Jesus is even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us. Teilhard calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now.
Jesus, the Christ, appears to the disciples in the gospel lesson from John giving them God’s very presence and calling them out of their comfortable place, which, is really precarious actually, into the world around them. When they receive the Spirit in power later at Pentecost, the movement begins! The disciples are not only carried by the Spirit, but they are also given forgiveness to be received and given! There is no longer any shame to hold us back when live in the presence of God.
There is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around us and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence. I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware…of being connected to ourselves, others, with the divine flow of God pushing us deeper. The disciples, like us, were in a liminal space, a threshhold out of their control and they were being pushed deeper into Presence.
As we allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive and wild God. We begin to see faith as not about certainty or having things figured out, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons. We are locally rooted in community, and globally connected in Christ…as we let that reality seep in, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out.
God’s Spirit, our advocate, is moving us out. And, we are being moved out of ourselves and finding creative ways that God’s Spirit has been at work in and around us during this season, and we are adapting, embracing this new reality, not certain of where it will lead, but trusting that God’s Spirit will energize us, that God’s Son will be our friend, and that God’s relational flow will continue to give birth to new possibilities.
Today is a reminder that some chapters close in our lives, yet other chapters open up! We are sending off Steve and Beth into the next part of their lives, even while we welcome new chapters in our lives personally and as a congregation. Yesterday, at my commencement, the president of the seminary reminded us that commencement is not only an ending, but also a beginning. We are a part of a legacy, a lineage, a great cloud of witnesses! Whatever happens next, we can remember that the Spirit of God, God’s Presen